Opening Nights: Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker

Duke Ellington makes things sleek and hot in this enjoyably bawdy holiday treat.

The Nutcracker is the Shmoo of dance works. Like Al Capp's cartoon creature, which tastes like a multitude of different things depending on how it's cooked, Nutcracker accommodates a huge variety of approaches. There are careful recreations of the original 19th-century choreography, radical political allegories, and PNB's ongoing Kent Stowell/Maurice Sendak version. So a burlesque version of the holiday perennial is a natural development. For the fifth year, Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann are staging their saucy variation on the bourgeois family classic, and they've been tweaking their formula to good effect. They use Duke Ellington's jazz version of the Tchaikovsky score, which does a big chunk of the work for them, translating the charm of the original into a sleeker, hotter idiom. Christmas provides an excuse for a series of dances; but instead of a family gathering, Land of the Sweets resembles an old Andy Williams Christmas special, where various celebs drop in for a drink and a song. As emcee, McCann schmoozes it up with the audience between these visits from beautiful men and women, most of whom take off their clothes before their music is over. Isn't that what happens at your holiday parties, too? These lovely creatures include a big sampling of the Seattle burlesque community. Verlaine, an original member of the Atomic Bombshells, leads a cast that features Waxie Moon as a fabulously foppy Rat King, Miss Indigo Blue as a very haughty Snow Queen (with a tall blue beehive rather like Marge Simpson's), and Lou Henry Hoover, Inga Ingénue, and Babette LaFave as a trio of Victoria's Secret snowflakes. Burlesque is a dance form with very specific structures, and most of the acts in Land of the Sweets are quite articulate in its conventions. Performers must combine an ironic wink and nod with a straightforward presentation of the body, flirtation with a predetermined ending. But like ballet variations that don't end with the expected flurry of turns and leaps, the most interesting numbers in Sweets push against formula. Verlaine's version of the "Coffee" dance is a good example, as she toys with a pair of deadpan retainers and plays rhythmic games with the score. The trapeze and hanging tissu work by the Aerialistas and Vivian Tam, respectively, add to the traditional tease-and-reveal structure the kinetic challenge, even danger, of not falling off the equipment. Those gymnastic complications make for a richer and more complex experience. Land of the Sweets doesn't claim to be more than an enjoyably bawdy holiday treat. (The late show is for adults only.) But just as artists like Bill Irwin or the Flying Kara-mazov Brothers have extended the reach of their inherited vaudeville traditions, this holiday revue could do more with its tearaway pants and pasties.

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